Call me Russ L

Writing about Supersonic 2011 – what we might politely call “the long view”

Posted in Music by Russ L on 10 February, 2012

Yup, it was three-and-a-half months ago (21/10/11 – 23/10/11). Last year, in fact. This post was too close to being finished to discard, though, and too far away from being finished to tempt me to actually finish it. Ah well. Let’s get it over with now, shall we?

So then, although it is fair to say that Supersonic didn’t strike me as quite as enticing this time around and that Mizosely Folk was the one that triggered most of my 2011 being-excited-about-a-festival pheromones, it’s still a hell of a thing for which we should all be thankful.

I didn’t sleep too tough the previous night, though, and that inevitably has its effect. I got there on the Friday to find that the festival has expanded sideways: out of The Custard Factory (I always wondered what would happen when Supersonic outgrew it), over the Mighty River Rea (see it and marvel at God’s majesty expressed in nature), and onto Floodgate street (and something called ‘Boxxed’ – another warehousey stage). I initially found it a bit difficult to orient myself (what with my tiredness, my stupidity and someone else’s clever decision to draw the map in the programme with South at the top. The second-named was probably the biggest factor, of course), but one soon gets the gist. It was a shame to see the drained-pond stage gone, since that was one of the things that I most strongly associated with the whole affair, but the new layout had it’s advantages – a Purity bar at every stage (ding, dong, the Factory Club is dead) and a sensible barrier placement/use of two-out-of-three doors in Space 2 to minimise cold drafts (a problem envisaged beforehand).

Speaking of climate, it was unseasonably warm for the end of October all weekend. That’s two years running that the most obvious outcome has failed to happen, weather-wise. Rejoice ye not, though, if it carries on taking place in Autumn then eventually the other precipitatory boot will drop and we’ll all get pneumonia.

It was Space 2 all evening for me, anyway. A.P.A.T.T. were on first, and they had a go at everything – klezmer, doom (cor blimey, the big loud doom finale didn’t half give Space 2’s powerful PA system an early blow-out), Elton-John-ish 70s pop, you name it. All whilst wearing all-white costumes. The sad problem is that once you’ve first thought ‘wacky’ it’s very hard to get ‘wacky’ out of your head, and there is little more poisonous. I did like some of the music though.

The tiredness was really upon me by this point, but Part Chimp were on next. It’s probably not how they’re usually described, but I actually found them very relaxing – riffology that I could simply melt into, in my nearly-asleep-on-the-feet state. This was all very nice.

I left then. I would’ve loved to see Mike Watt, but I really was too tired. Leaving at this point had the bonus of me not needing to get a taxi all weekend, though, which cut the cost of the thing enormously.

I slept. I returned on Saturday.

Things began with mostly-electronics duo Berg Sans Nipple, at the Boxxxed stage. Apparently electronics and water can mix nicely, given that they started off sounding like the bottom of a lovely placid lake (albeit one with depth charges of bass killing unsuspecting fishies every now and again). They surfaced from the depths with live drums and a more rhythmic/grooving feel, actually playing (live, I mean, as opposed to replaying a sample of) the Amen Break at one point. I love it when a band does that. It’s like pop repeating on itself after already auto-cannibalising. Enjoyable stuff, anyway.

I crossed The Bridge Over The River Rea (tremble as its raw power threatens to tear apart the culvert so it relentlessly hurtles down) and headed to The Old Library for banjista Nathan Bell. A one-man-band (bar one song), with foot-operated percussion and (at times) little bells dangling from the neck of his banjo. His was an excellent mix of the bluegrassy trad on some songs and the loopy wig-out on others, with a big Morricone-on-crack monstah finale. I must hear more of this Nate Bell character.

Back to Boxxxxed I toddled, in time for what turned out to be the best set of the entire festival. Teeth Of The Sea played what I suppose I could only describe as ‘huge-sounding psychedelic industrial’, with nice little oddments like tribal drumming and trumpet (I was reminded of Morricone again, funnily enough. Maybe if Morricone had ever scored a sci-fi film) overlaid. They had a really dynamic sound, even though most of the set was all at high volume – there was a real feeling of movement within the music. Capable of hitting as hard as anyone else when doing a hard-hitting bit but also flinging you into space when needs be, Teeth Of The Sea won Supersonic 2011.

I headed to Space 2 and watched a little bit of Bardo Pond, but they just seemed to be pulling some entirely stock’n’standard shoegaze moves and my mind found itself drifting towards the thought of obtaining food.

I popped into The Custard Factory’s new Bay Leaf restaurant, and found it to have a slightly more upmarket/young-funky-fresh approach than Digbeth’s longstanding stalwart Manzils. It’s good to have both kinds around, I think. The Beef Aloo Bhuna that I had was enjoyable. Tagore quotes on the wall are nice, charging for poppadoms with a meal is not nice.

Next up was a great bit of crowd participationerationfrom Lucky Dragons, set up in front of the stage in Boxxxxxed. They began with a bit of ethereal ambient bloopery before starting to manipulate a brace of plastic sheets underneath some sort of light-sensitive-sensor which triggered responses in the sounds. They then encouraged people in the audience to have a go themselves, and that was how the rest of the set passed. It was lovely – unsurprisingly, the first few folk to have a stab started cautiously, but before too long people were trying to work out different ways of moving/bending/folding the sheets, putting objects on top on top of them etc. I didn’t participate myself but was it was lovely to watch the happy looks on people’s faces. An altogether joyful thing to see.

Pharaoh Overlord were next, doing The Stooges (even down to singer sounding bit like Iggy) covering Neu!. This, as such a description would suggest, was thoroughly Rocking. There’s not a lot more to describe about them beyond that, but that much Rocking equals that much Fun.

I ended up leaving them before they’d finished to go and see Electric Wizard (Space 2), and upon entering I was pleased to see a balloon being bounced around the crowd like Slava’s Snowshow. I’ve had a strange history with The Wizard – I saw ‘em a couple of times aroundabout a decade ago, but since then I’ve lost touch with them and their doings in spite of how much I adore their “Dopethrone” album (and in spite of how much I was into their offshoot band Ramesses for a while there. Although, thinking about it, I’ve drifted away from Ramesses too nowayears). They were OK enough here, but not quite hitting it – neither the sonic weight of their heavy side or the cheeky grin of their horror-film-sample-using side really struck through. They have plenty of riffs that it’s near-impossible not to nod to, but they didn’t quite put it all together like they did when I were a lad and this were all just fields.

That was it for the Saturday, then. Sunday saw me Back Once Again Like A Renegade Master, and first-of-all ensconcing myself in a seat in the Theatre Space. I am fond of both seats and the Theatre Space, because with these things you get to sit down. More importantly than that, though, I was very eager to see the tuba-doom (“doompah”, if you will) duo Ore. This was amazing – doom metal played on tubas, an inspired choice given that the tuba (as an instrument) provides not only the deep’n’low notes but also the appearance-of-a-massive-physical-struggle that you need to make this sort of thing seem convincing. It was only afterwards that I sussed out whyfore the name, too: ore, the essence of metal, in an unfamiliar form but left pure and stripped of artifice. “Ahar-har-har, that’s actually genuinely clever” I thought. Magnificent, anyway. I would like to see the two of them in collaboration with a didgeridoo player (because dronez) and a sousaphonist (because the sousaphone is the greatest instrument yet created).

Pekko Kappi, over at Space 2, didn’t quite connect with me and I do think that’s a shame. I approved of his playing the jouhikko (a traditional Finnish lyre), I approve of the way he played it (gleefully bowing away in the manner of an eight year old with a junior hacksaw), and I approved of his lyrics (settings of Finnish folk tales that sounded like narrations of Hell Brueghel paintings), but something just didn’t seem to work. I expect I’ll absolutely adore him the next time I encounter him.

Upon wandering past I became aware that Alexander Tucker was playing amongst the Connie Prantera exhibit in Zelig, unadvertised bar a few posters that were more-or-less immediately outside it. I went in immediately upon noticing them, and turned out to be in time for last 2 minutes. I heard some quiet vocals over drones, just enough to wonder and wish that I’d seen how he got up to that point.

Following that, it seemed like an as good a moment as any to exit and show my face in The White Swan and The Anchor. Just to be sociable, likesay.

I returned to see Selfless and their homage to old crusty grind. It’s exactly the same as what they used to play in the olden days when the world was black and white (I’m talking about photocopied record covers, not films), made great fun through ferocity and general funtime exuberance. As any local will tell you, Dunc has the greatest stage banter (“Cor see many books in ‘ere” he wisely noted of The Old Library).

Back to Boxxxxxxed, then, for Drum Eyes. Imagine everything in the world all going on at once (mostly violin, heavy bass and bleepy computer noises, but everything nevertheless), albeit in a strangely tuneful way. There you have your Drum Eyes. This was (nay, is) an extremely good thing, if difficult to describe.

I returned (slightly dazed) to Space 2 and caught the end of Barn Owl, who was doing a shrieky guitar drone. It was another one of those where I couldn’t get much from it and probably needed to have seen what led up to that point.

I followed this with a chicken curry from the Japanese food stall. It was quite nice (although £5 is obviously dearer than anything that comes in a tray really should be, irrespective of quality). This fortified me sufficiently to tramp back over to Boxxxxxxxed, for Iconaclass, which is your man from Dälek’s more traditionally styled hip-hop act. I initially enjoyed a bit of heavy-bass boom-bap, but left when we hit a turntablism section that looked like it wouldn’t ever end (come on now, it’s no morally superior to a guitar solo). Tony Conrad was on in Space 2, and I know he’s very influential and all the rest of it but I nevertheless found myself faced with a distorted violin solo that looked like it wouldn’t ever end and so began to wonder if we’d hit that point in the weekend. Suspicions were confirmed when I moved on to the Old Library and found Cut Hands doing sampled drum solo that looked like it wouldn’t ever end.

I returned to watch a bit more Conrad (the distorted violin solo had not, in fact, ended) before just generally faffing around for a bit. Somehow I always manage to spend some time just generally faffing around at events like this (and, indeed, when it comes to life in general). I eventually returned to Boxxxxxxxxed for Silver Apples, electronic music legend and such. The last time I saw him saw an interesting atmospheric dissonance in the audience – there seemed to be an equal mix of people genuflecting in reverence/awe and people openly laughing at him. This time around your man was suffering from equipment malfunctions a-plenty. I must admit I chuckled to myself when the CD that he was playing for his beats skipped. I got enjoyment from it all in comical way, but if you go in for any solemn temple of art nonsense then this would probably have been horrific. “I Don’t Know” was at least genuinely eerie.

I crossed the Rea again (and by this point I was having to suppress the urge to stop and sing “Old Man River” from the bridge) and headed to Space 2 for Envy. They played post-rock biiiiig (“biiiiig” is a noun, you know) with all those usual sorts of dynamics, but added the chiming guitar of that style of melodic rock stuff that they sometimes describe as post-hardcore (for some reason). Does that make them post-post? Alright-ish, anyway.

A big ending for my weekend was necessary, and so I finished things off with Drunk In Hell in The Old Library. Noise-rock, but times a million billion. They just sort of go “BRRROOOOOAAARGGGGHHHH” with massive riffs and menacing intent, and it’s ace. It’s as though the movement of continents started accelerating. I’ve often thought (by which I mean I’ve just thought for the first time) that there’s only one band at a time in a country who can harness such a degree of raw elemental oomph – Mistress used to be the British representatives, but now it’s Drunk In Hell.

After that, that was me lot. I had fun.

(Checky checky checky The Collective Memory for a whole metric bagful more posts and articles about Supersonic 2011).